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168                                                                                                             B- POLEVOI
of Moscow. He skilfully manoeuvred into the enemy's
rear, got him clearly into his sight and pressed the but-
ton of his guns. He pressed it, but to his surprise he
failed to hear the familiar rattle. The button didn't work.
The German plane was a little ahead of him. He hung
on to it, keeping in the dead zone, protected from the
twin machine-guns in its stern by the keel of its tail. In
the clear light of that bright May morning, Moscow
loomed on the horizon like a heap of grey piles enveloped
in mist. Struchkov resolved on a desperate stroke. He
unfastened his straps, threw back the hood of his cockpit
and tightened his muscles as if preparing to spring. He
steered his plane in perfect line with that of the bomber
and for a moment the two planes flew one behind the
other as if tied by an invisible thread. Through the trans-
parent hood of the Junkers, Struchkov distinctly saw the
eyes of the German turret gunner watching every ma-
noeuvre he made, waiting for at least a bit of his wing
to appear outside the dead zone. He saw the German
pull his helmet off in excitement, and even saw his hair,
fair and long, hanging over his forehead in strands. The
two black snouts of the heavy machine-guns were turned
in Struchkov's direction and moved like living things,
waiting for their opportunity. For an instant Struchkov
felt like an unarmed man upon whom a robber had train-
ed his gun, and he did what plucky, unarmed men do in
such a situation—he hurled himself upon the enemy, but
not with his fists, as he would have done on the ground;
he jerked his plane forward and aimed the glistening
circle of his propeller at the enemy's tail.
He did not hear the crash. In the next instant, thrown
upward by the terrific impact, he felt that he was somer-
saulting in the air. The ground flashed over his head,
stopped and then rushed towards him, bright green and
shining. He released his parachute, but before he lost
consciousness and hung suspended from the ropes, he saw
out of the corner of his eye the cigar-shaped hull of the
Junkers, minus its tail, hurtling past him and revolving
like a maple leaf torn off by the autumn wind. Swinging
helplessly from the parachute ropes, Struchkov heavily
struck the roof of a house and fell unconscious into the
festive street of a Moscow suburb, the inhabitants of